Tuesday, October 06, 2009

To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield

To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield
Copyright 2008 (Orig. published 1972)
Sourcebooks Landmark - Historical Fiction
598 pages, incl. reading group guide

He turned left and cut through the Rogues Gallery to the linen room, thence to his own quarters, glancing sideways at a cherubic Algy Herries, beaming down from the panelling. "I won that round on points, Algy," he said aloud, and little Burnett-Jones, emerging from the linen room with a newly darned pair of socks, scuttled off to tell the Second Form that Pow-Wow was beginning to talk to himself, a certain sign of onrushing lunacy. He was a little crestfallen when this piece of intelligence caused no stir at all. Venn, from the lofty peak of a third-termer, hardly looked up from a count of grimed cigarette cards as he said, "Queen Anne's dead. They all do that. You'll get used to it in a term or two, new kid."

--excerpt from To Serve Them All My Days

To Serve Them All My Days tells the story of David Powlett-Jones. Back in Great Britain after three years serving in the trenches of WWI and severely shell-shocked, his doctor encourages him to continue his recovery by doing what he loves most -- teaching history. P. J., as he's often referred to later in the book (the students refer to him as "Pow-Wow"), takes his doctor's advice and sets off to interview for a post at Bamfylde, a remote boys' school in Devon. Powlett-Jones thinks it's unlikely the headmaster will be interested in a ruined young man who shakes at loud noises. Instead, he finds himelf practically accepted without question by an upbeat, charming and encouraging headmaster by the name of Algy Herries. Herries is desperate for warm young bodies as the war has killed off so many men who might have ended up searching for teaching jobs.

P. J. easily and quickly finds his place at Bamfylde and the job does, indeed, act as therapy. The story continues to follow him through two decades of service at Bamfylde, as he deals with the daily troubles of working with a variety of personalities, dealing with the loneliness, grief, excitement and fears that his students experience and his own ups and downs in the job and in his life. As the book closes, P. J. is reflecting on his time at Bamfylde. He's happy in some ways and just a tad bitter in others. England has taken a battering in the second World War and many of the boys he saw grow up have already been killed in yet another frightful war.

The ending really is lovely as it's beautifully concluded and yet not really an ending at all. Good times and bad have continued throughout his time at Bamfylde and it's clear that more of the same will continue to occur until he retires; and, you're left with the sense that there are many more years of his work at Bamfylde ahead of him.

I absolutely loved this book and looked forward to spending a little time with P. J., each day. In fact, because I enjoyed the atmosphere so much, I admit to deliberately dragging out the reading and I'm afraid I'd go straight into withdrawal if not for the fact that I own a copy of the BBC series on DVD.

The only thing I disliked (apart from a few diatribes about British politics) was that P. J. occasionally was a bit prickly and had a slightly bad attitude toward women. His coworkers blamed P. J.'s Welsh mining heritage for his occasional outbursts of temper. As to his feelings about women . . . this is something I noted in the protagonist of God is an Englishman, as well, and I suspect that the author was simply a product of his misogynistic times but it may also have been his way of portraying how men really felt during the time period. In To Serve Them All My Days, P. J. actually tells his depressed wife that she needs to "snap out of it" after her first child is stillborn. And, then he proceeds to tell her that being his wife should be challenge enough for her. Fortunately, P. J.'s best friend and mentor steps in with a much better plan for helping his wife recover from tragedy and in that way the author redeemed himself.

5/5 - A beautifully-written, emotionally charged and complex tale of one man's life, tragedies, hope and healing, set at an English boarding school. Absolutely engrossing.

Cover thoughts: Even though playing marbles isn't something that was mentioned in the book, I just love the Sourcebooks cover of To Serve Them All My Days. It seems to speak well of the time and place, an atmosphere of joy and learning. The way an older man is crouched near the boy, you can easily imagine he is P. J. or one of the other teachers and get a feel for how they were not just people who dipped into the lives of their students during class time but were involved in every sense. Teaching, at least as described in this book, was not just a calling but a way of life.

Many thanks to Danielle at Sourcebooks for the advanced review copy!

I'm not sure which of the three books I've been reading for a while that I'll end up focusing on with an eye to finishing, next, but I've just begun reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner and it is almost unfairly gripping. I'm also going to be touring that zombie book, Day by Day Armageddon, on Thursday so I need to find an image to place in my sidebar before I completely forget and find that I'm done. That happens; and, it's a pretty short book.

In other news:

We're all on pins and needles as our beloved Miss Spooky is spending the night at the veterinary hospital so that further testing can be done. Her beautiful green eyes have been bleeding (!!!) and the preliminary bloodwork showed that she is anemic and may have kidney issues. The vet has told us that he suspects there may be some internal bleeding, given both the blood work and the fact that she has bleeding in both eyes. Miss Spooky is 15, so I suppose she's reached that age when a kitty's health starts to go, but we're hoping her ills are treatable.

My teenager has already gone through the loss of our Little Miss Sunshine (whom he referred to as "Sunner" and I called "Miss Shiny") so he's acting tough but -- I don't blame him for this -- thinking ahead to the possibility of kittens if the worst-case should occur. It's nice having a son who is so besotted by his pets.

A lot of books have walked in my door, this week, but I'm most excited about God Sightings: The One-Year Bible - a new NLT chronological Bible from Tyndale. I have utterly and completely failed at my goal to read the Bible in 2009, but that was partly because I made the mistake of buying a Bible with teeny-tiny print, just as I've reached the age of bifocals. I like to do my reading at night and by the time I got that Bible out, it was hard enough to focus on regular print. The new God Sightings Bible is the normal size, paperback of the variety that stays open when you flip to a scripture, so that you don't always have to keep one hand on the Bible. I love that. I'll tell you more about it, later, when I've had a chance to get a good long look at it. I've been using my Mosaic Bible for Bible Study and will review that one soon -- hopefully, within the week.

I've been bad about wahooing, lately, so instead I'll ask: What do you have to Wahoo about, today? Tell me! I could use the upper. :)


  1. This sounds like a book I would really enjoy. So sorry to hear about Miss Spooky and I hope you get good news about her.

  2. Kathy,

    It's a book to get lost in; I'm sure you'd love it. :) Thanks for the wishes for Spooky. She was really hurting, so I hope we can get her problem figured out quickly.

  3. This sounds like a lovely book, one you can really get into. I hope everything will work out with Miss Spooky.

  4. Wow, I need to pick up this book. It sounds like a great gift idea for lots of my reader friends. All my best wishes to Miss Spooky!

  5. Belle,

    It's one do dive into and swim around for a while. I seldom feel like I love the setting of a saga so much that I'd like to move right in, but I felt that way about To Serve. Thanks for the kitty hopes. :)


    I didn't think of this before, but it would make a great book for sitting by a roaring fire when it's snowing heavily and there's not a thing to do because you're stuck indoors. Are you in a snowy part of the country? I'm not. Snow every 7 years is about our average. Thank you for the kitty wishes! I'm both anxious and terrified to find out the results.

  6. Like I told you, I really want to read this! I really like the cover, too...

    I am sorry to hear about your cat. I hope a full recovery is made!

  7. Haven't finished God Is an Englishman, but your observations about the protagonist ring true for me as well. I'm looking forward to To Serve Them All My Days; as a retired teacher, I still love books on the subject.

    Hate to hear about Miss Spooky's problems and hope things improve soon. Beloved pets...such joy, such sorrow.

  8. Kailana,

    Yep, and you should. Hope you enjoyed the review. Isn't that a great cover? It looks very 30's to me.

    Thanks for the kitty wishes. I didn't get much sleep, last night. I'm kind of hovering by the phone. :)


    Good, I'm glad it's not just me who noticed Delderfield's misogynistic characters. I just looked him up and found that he died in 1972 of lung cancer. Interesting, given the fact that his characters smoke heavily in To Serve and one of them dies of lung cancer.

    Thank you. That's so true about pets. A house without a cat is very, very odd and lonely. I hope she'll be treatable and we can bring her home. I miss her like crazy.

  9. Oh poor Miss Spooky (and Bookfool family). I hope she pulls through. I had a cat who had kidney failure and it was really hard to see him go through it. My heart goes out to kiddo.

  10. Trish,

    It's all good news on the kitty!! We dropped by the clinic because it was getting close to closing time, we were out that way and the vet hadn't called when I left the house (I didn't want to miss an update). We didn't get to bring her home, yet, but he said he'd narrowed her problem down to two possibilities and started treating her -- and she was already showing some improvement. We'll probably get her back, tomorrow! Squeeee! So happy!! Kiddo is thrilled, of course. He's had enough grief in the last couple of years.

  11. Whew...letting out a sigh of relief. Good news, Nancy, and I'm thrilled to hear it.

  12. I'm glad to hear you liked this book. I am very happy that I discovered this author and already have two more books of his waiting on my shelf to be read.
    I'm sorry to hear that your beloved kitty's health is failing and I hope that those ills are indeed treatable.

  13. Trish,

    Yeah, huge relief. We really thought she was a goner. I can't wait till we get to fetch her!


    I love this author, too. His books are fun to settle into for days or weeks. Our kitty is improving! We may even get to bring her home, today. I can't wait! It's weird not having a cat around.

  14. I am so sorry to hear about your cat! She really is very pretty. Hopefully the further testing will help fix whatever may be ailing her.

    Well-Read Reviews

  15. Allison,

    The vet went ahead and started treating kitty for the two possibilities to which he'd narrowed down and, as of yesterday, said she was responding very well. We should be able to pick her up today (unless the storm I just mentioned in my latest post gets in our way!!!). :) Thanks for your support! We're so excited that she's going to be okay!!!

  16. This sounds like a really great and powerful book. I will have to keep my eye out for it.
    I hope all goes well with Miss Spooky. What a beautiful picture!

  17. Hi April!

    I think you would love this book. It's a great book to sink your teeth into -- especially terrific for a quiet, snowy day. I'll bet you'll have a few of those coming up. :)

    Thank you. She's a pretty girl. Miss Spooky is home! She looks awful, with her bad eye all puffy, and she's pretty much done nothing but sleep but we're so happy to have her back!!

  18. This one looks really good. Love the review. I'm sorry about your cat, but I'm glad she's home now!

  19. Holly,

    It's wonderful. Hubby and I are watching the BBC mini-series based on the book and enjoying it, too. Thank you! We're so happy to have our kitty home, creepy eye and all. LOL She's moving a little better, today. Hopefully, she'll keep improving. She is a bit of a mess!

  20. Glad to hear that you received good news about your kitty. And this sounds like a book I'd enjoy.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  21. Anna,

    Thanks. Kitty looks better every day (except for her eye -- at least she's perky). Yep, I think you'd love this one.

  22. I just may add this onto my TBR List. From your description, it sounds like it has a non-fiction feel to it. Did you experience that as you read it?

    As for Kitty, I'm glad to read that she's on the mend. :)

  23. Joy,

    I wouldn't say that, but on the other hand the book is so realistic that you could look at it that way. It's very detailed and gives you a pretty good understanding of boarding school in England, at least during that time period. It also seems quite true to life as far as the ups and downs, but PJ is very emotional and his feelings are probably what separates it from a stiffer, nonfiction read. I just loved To Serve.

    Thanks! Kitty ate her entire bowl of food, last night, for the first time since she returned from the hospital. Another positive step!!

  24. This sounds like a book I could really sink my teeth into. I added it to my TBR.

    I'm so sorry to hear about Ms. Spooky. Have you received the test results back yet?

  25. Teddy,

    It's a great book. I've been recommending To Serve Them All My Days to everyone -- particularly those who are looking for a nice chunkster to settle in with.

    Yep, we got test results and some very strong medicine. It's helped her regain strength but her bad eye suddenly took a turn for the worse and she had a terrible reaction to her eyedrops on Friday. I spent all afternoon and evening taking care of the cat and cleaning up after her, after an emergency run to the vet. He said if we can't get the pressure down in that eye, she might have to have it removed. I hate to think of her having surgery, but she's doing great on one eye - no balance trouble, etc., and if we get to that point and it solves the problem, we'll just dress her like a pirate on Halloween. We just want her well. :)

  26. I'm glad that she is doing better! It's too bad about her eye. I know a cat with one eye and he does really well.


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